Date: Thu, 5 Dec 1996 17:49:56 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 5, 1996 (E

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Date: Thu, 5 Dec 1996 17:49:56 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 5, 1996 (Evening Edition) Reply-To:, from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 5, 1996 (Evening Edition) A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #209 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/5/96 (Evening Edition) e-mail: STATE EDUCATION BOARD NO LONGER CONTROLLED BY RELIGIOUS There's some good news coming out of the recent elections; in Michigan, that state's powerful religious activist groups no longer control the State Board of Education, and former Board President Clark Durant can no longer insist on bringing Christianity into the public school system. That's because the group is now more balanced with the loss of two incumbents who essentially wanted to either dismantle or religionize the public school system in Michigan, according to news reports including an article in a recent Detroit News. A newly elected board member declared that "We may not be able to reverse what Durant has done, but we can at least slow him down." Slowing him down means, in some cases, trying to end the sell-off of the entire school system to a stock-issuing Public Education Corporation, proposed in a 1995 plan endorsed by the Board's religious majority. That corporation would have continued Durant's efforts to "insert Christianity into the public school system" (Detroit News). Durant often referred to students as "children of God. Last summer, he ignited controversy by proposing that the Bible be utilized throughout the state's classrooms to instruct students in "values and good character.' "There are a number of stories in the Bible...Moses is a wonderful story (sic) about patience, tolerance, excellence, humility and leadership," declared Durant. But civil libertarians charged that the Board President's proposal was just a ruse to mix religion, Bible fairy tales and the three R's. When Durant was elected to his post in 1995 as the handpicked candidate of Michigan Governor John Engler, he announced his vision in a statement: "We, the Michigan Board of Education, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, do earnestly desire to secure these blessing undiminished for our children. Religion, morality, and knowledge are necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, so therefore schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In his capacity as B of E head, Durant has supported the controversial TEACH Michigan plan that was formulated by the state's religious right groups, and according to critic is a strategy to evade the state constitution's prohibition of government aid to churches. TEACH proposed a number of changes, including religious charter schools, and more aggressive state aid to private and religious educational groups. Backing the TEACH Michigan scheme have been the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, the state's Focus on the Family Group, and the Citizens for Traditional Values. Critics noted that these organizations used TEACH as a vehicle for promoting school prayer, and introducing religious pseudo-science into classes. CTV, for instance, promoted a "textbook" disingenuously titled "America's Proverbial History." The book is promoted with a blurb: "Newsweek recent reported 'historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document. This book proves it'." In addition, Citizens for Traditional Values sponsors a "monkey madness" program throughout the state that claims to offer "scientific evidence for supporting the theory of creation." "Textbooks" Of Deception The TEACH program and other efforts to interject religious indoctrination into public schools in Michigan (and elsewhere) rely heavily on efforts to undermine current secular curriculums and teaching materials, and replace them with "values" or "family-friendly" books and aids. Already, "charter" schools and "Christian academies" throughout the state are using questionable materials produced by religious groups which promote a distinctly religious, i.e. fundamentalist Christian view of subject matter. Presumably, these books would become widespread in classrooms if the Michigan schools were "sold off" to ersatz-private corporations. Many of the deceptive "textbooks" come from Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Pensacola Christian College Press in Florida. Detroit's Metro Times interviewed Albert Menendez of Americans for Religious Liberty, who noted that "Religious bigotry permeates these supposedly secular textbooks." One text, for instance, notes that the "Bible does not specifically condemn slavery," while another states that "The Indian (Native American) culture typified heathen civilization. Lost in darkness without light of the gospel." "Disgruntled over the loss of their lands and the destruction of the buffalo," notes another fraudulent "history" text, "the Indians were quick to go on a rampage." Still another text on hygiene and sex-education states: "God demands sexual purity," and that those who disobey should know that "The diseases that may result are a reminder that God punishes sinners.." And the book "Biology for Christian Schools" declares: "If the conclusions (of the scientific community) contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them." The changes in the complexion of the new Michigan State Board of Education promise to at least stop some of these trends; but religious fundamentalists and evangelicals still remain a potent political force. Already, there are reports that in light of the recent elections, Gov. Engler is considering effectively muting the board, and transferring all authority to the Superintendent of Public Education. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS In Israel, the battle between religious fundamentalists and civil libertarian secularists continues. Recall that ever since the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that country's religious political groups have been flexing their muscles, demanding important government ministerial posts, and calling for strict enforcement of laws designed to "protect" orthodoxy and Sabbath. For months, thousands of Orthodox Jews (almost exclusively beard-wearing, heavily suited men) have poured onto Bar Ilan Street in Tel Aviv, demanding that the traffic artery be shut down during the holy period. (Already, the orthodox have succeeded in turning off an Israeli communications satellite!) In addition to wanting to eventually ban traffic on the Sabbath, the orthodox have also taken on the problematic symbols of modernity and cosmopolitanism -- everything from McDonald's restaurants to cafes, bars and movie houses. Now, a poll by the Israeli daily newspaper "Yediot Aharonot" reports that 47% of those questioned believe that friction between secular and religious groups could lead to civil war. USA TODAY's current edition quoted an Israeli sociologist who warned: "Secular Israelis are already alarmed and frightened by the expansion of the ultraorthodox politically and socially." And evidence of the "culture war" engulfing the country is everywhere. Last night, some 8,000 orthodox attended a rally in Tel Aviv and were told by a procession of rabbinical leaders that "The situation is deteriorating. Shops are open on Shabbat (Sabbath), cinemas are open on Shabbat, and the municipality hires people to work on Shabbat." One new target for the Orthodox has been TV comic Gil Kopatch, whose often-irreverent routines on the tube have delighted secularists and offended religious authorities. Religious parties want Kopatch banned, not only because his popular show is aired during the Sabbath time, but over his barbs and clownings directed at the Netanhayu government. Leading the charge against the jokester is the United Torah Judaism party, which controls four seats in the Israeli parliament or Knesset. Jerusalem Mayor Ronni Milto told Britain's Electronic Telegraph that the community must remain tolerant of Koptach and other secular activities. "He suggests the Orthodox are out of bounds by trying to impose the norms of Jerusalem on Tel Aviv," notes the paper adding: "They feel some kind of power intoxication as a result of the May elections." ** One objection we have with religious prescriptions for the ills of society -- real, exaggerated or imagined -- is that being a priest, minister, rabbi or some other mystical go-between does not endow one with superior wisdom in areas like politics or economics, and does NOT -- repeat NOT -- make one more moral or righteous. Let's start with a Chadds Ford, Pa. retired Presbyterian minister who according to his neighbors was a pillar of the community, a guy who taught Sunday school, sang in a choir and helped build religious sets for Christmas show. Seems that on Monday night, the good Reverend "shot one man to death in a Deleware County home, then pistol-whipped, choked and shot a woman he secretly desired. Thinking her dead, he flopped into a chair, recited a prayer for forgiveness and put a bullet in his own head," reports the Washington Post. Then there's the judgement-call of a former Roman Catholic priest who built a religious order composed of ex-cons and drug addicts and made them into monks. Most of us have considerable sympathy for those who, perhaps for lack of opportunity or a just-plain-raw-deal get caught up in the criminal justice system, or the addiction to drugs. But why is religious belief increasingly being proposed as a cure all for such behaviors? On Wednesday, an inmate-monk was charged with the murder of Rev.Martin-Henri, whose body was found laying face down in a ditch near the monastery outside of Boston, Mass. The lesson in both cases is clear; being a "man of the cloth" does not necessarily facilitate good judgement, or even good behavior. ** South Africa has a new constitution; and its wording may not suit that country's religious groups which have been squabbling for the past year over various draft resolutions. The Washington Post notes that the 150-page document, one of the most progressive in the world, protects the rights of gays and lesbians, does not establish religion, and allows public servants the option of swearing or affirming their allegiance. Religious groups apparently won a symbolic victory, in that the phrases "May God protect our people" and "God bless South Africa" appear at the bottom of the Preamble. ** In Canada, the nation's Supreme Court has ruled that the Ontario government does not have to finance non-Catholic religious schools even though it has subsidized Roman Catholic classrooms for more than a century. This ends a five year legal battle by Protestants and others to include their own schools in the funding scheme, along with Jewish and Hindu institutions. The problems stems from a government policy formulated in 1867, when Catholic Quebec joined mostly Protestant Ontario in the political arrangement which became Canada. The New York Times reported yesterday that "The dual school system was a way to accommodate both sides, and the court's ruling held than an expansion of the system to include additional religious groups had never been intended." Even so, the jurists noted that there is nothing specific in the Canadian constitution that prevents funding of non-Catholic religious schools. Another good argument on behalf of state-church separation, yes? ** Is it the blink of an eye, or a metaphorical wink about the gullible? Decide for yourself. In Bethlehem, crowds are flocking to the Church of the Nativity where, according to legend, the god-man Jesus Christ was born. We'll not get into that argument for now, but the point is that the interest stems from reports that a centuries-old icon of Jesus is said to "wink" at people. "Look, look!" declared one visitor to an Associated Press reporter. "He (Jesus) blinked. What a blessing!" The reports of the Blinking Jesus began several weeks ago when visiting Greek Orthodox priests said they witnessed the phenomenon, and immediately pronounced it to be a miracle.. Said Father Anastasios, a senior Orthodox clergyman from Bethlehem: "It's a message for people to come back to God and religion." ** A tip 'o the AANEWS hat to Charles Kesner of Royal Oak, Michigan. For the past five years, Mr. Kesner has been conducting a personal campaign to rid his community of church advertising signs posted on public roads, a clear violation of the First Amendment. According to the Daily Tribune, the signs were manufactured and posted by the city, in exchange for what the paper termed "a nominal fee." Mr. Kesner didn't like it. "I couldn't believe it," he told the Tribune. "At first I thought the churches were behind it. Then I thought it was the utility companies because the signs were on their poles. But they don't know anything about it." Kesner then complained to the city and was told that the signs were routinely posted for all kinds of non-profit organizations like the Optimists or Neighborhood Watch. Some gum shoeing of his own, though, revealed otherwise. Notes the Tribune: "His (Kesner's) own research found permanent fixed signs only for churches. In his view, if the city gave that right to churches, then other groups -- from gay rights to atheists -- should have the same privilege." Thanks to Mr. Kesner, the signs' days are numbered, and will be taken down by September, 2001. ** Even if there were a deity, and even if that deity (or deities) decided to try and communicate his, her, its or their will to the human race, there would apparently be plenty of squabbling. A god is either, literally, out of the picture, or has done a shabby and inadequate job of revealing his intentions. Take what happened in Detroit last month. At opposite ends of the area, two distinct groups -- both of which claim the inside track on revealed divine wisdom -- were holding their respective meetings. A dissident Catholic outfit known as Call To Action was meeting in a Detroit suburb, trying to find ways to implement trendy reforms inside the church, like ordination of women priests. Who cares? One representative of the group insisted that they weren't talking about "changing church doctrine" -- really?! -- and were "trying to be true to the origins of Christianity." The former makes no sense, of course, in light of papal pronunciamentos about the priesthood, and as for the latter claim, theologians and historians still argue competing theories of what the "origins" of the Christian cult were like. So over in the Sterling Heights section, a conference known as "Call to Holiness" was throwing its shindig, and was being staged to demonstrate the group's commitment to "traditional Catholic church teachings," according to Associated Press. Representatives of each group blamed the other for straying from the True Word. The "dissident" group (Call to Action) was denounced for its stances on homosexuality, birth control, abortion and ordination of women. A spokesman declared: "The church does change and does adapt. But the pope cannot change the teaching that women cannot be ordained." And over at Call to Action, those folks were calling for ordination of priestesses and defending the right of the clergy to marry. Seems like a tempest in a teapot -- or is it much ado about, literally, nothing? ** Fundamentalist Christians (and even hard-nosed Catholics) have enjoyed a problematic relationship with Jews; originally, bible-bangers consider The Chosen People to be "Christ Killers" and other ilk, which is one reason why guys like the late Father Coughlin and Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith spend decades preaching anti-semitic hate and sucking up to demagogues like Adolph Hitler. That began to change in the late 1960's and 1970's, when Israel was perceived as both a doorstop in the middle east against the advance of Communism or Pan Arabism, and the Jews became "junior partners" in Christian scenarios about the apocalypse. Now, a poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee released in late November reveals that "religious right" believers have their own distinct take on Israel and the Jews. 72% support the claim that "Jews have a right to the land of Israel because it was promised to them by God," as opposed to 43% of the general American population. But 58% of religious right Christians insist that the Jews also need to convert to Christianity, a view shared by only 22% of Americans. 53% believe the Jews to be "God's chosen people" (28% of Americans agree). There is a little progress on the "Christ killer" image, though. 21% of religious right respondents said that "Jews must answer for killing Jesus," a view shared by only 8% of the general population. (Thanks to Wayne Aiken for this piece.) ** SEND A FRIEND, A RELATIVE -- EVEN AN ENEMY! -- A SOLSTICE CARD! There's still time to order the new American Atheist Press catalogue that abounds with solstice gift offerings, including books, pamphlets, and our popular seasonal greeting cards. Some are serious, others are funny and a bit irreverent. Check them out! And you'll find an assortment of hundreds of books and other potential gifts for yourself or friends during the Solstice season! To have a copy rushed to you, send mail to, and be sure to include your name and postal mailing address. *** HELP US ACHIEVE OUR GOAL OF 10,000 READERS AANEWS is still working on its objective of having 10,000 readers by the end of the year -- and you can help! Why not forward a copy of aanews to a friend? Or, post this dispatch on your personal website or bulletin board? By doing so, you enable us to "spread the word" about Atheism and the need for state-church separation in America! * About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send mail to and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, **


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